No. 25 Lady Gamecocks notch 20th win of season

No. 25 South Carolina collected its 20th win of the season with a 69-55 decision over Alabama Sunday afternoon at Foster Auditorium.

The Gamecocks (20-7, 9-5 SEC) took a 12-point lead into the locker room at halftime and survived a sloppy second half for both teams.

La’Keisha Sutton led the way with 13 points, all in the second half, and a career-high tying seven rebounds. South Carolina shot a season-high 55.6 percent from the field and added 14 free throws to the scoring effort.

South Carolina played from the outside in in the first half, as Markeshia Grant scored 11 of the team’s first 15 points before the posts took over to net 15 of the remaining 23 to give the Gamecocks a 38-26 halftime lead. The Crimson Tide won the battle of the boards in the first 20 minutes, 21-18, but the Gamecocks left few rebounds out there, hitting 51.7 percent from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.

The first half was decided by a 21-6 run that turned a 9-8 Gamecock lead at the 12:12 mark into a 32-16 advantage seven minutes later. Grant sparked the surge with back-to-back 3-pointers from the right corner. Meghan Perkins drove the baseline, hoping to prevent a significant run, but the Gamecocks were aggressive on both sides of the ball and would not be denied. Aleighsa Welch followed an Ebony Wilson offensive rebound with a drive through the lane and completed a traditional three-point play. Her rebound on the defensive end set up Ieasia Walker’s transition attempt, on which she was fouled and buried both free throws for a 20-10 Gamecock lead midway through the half.

Jasmine Robinson got loose on a baseline out of bounds play for a mid-range jumper, but South Carolina answered with a Welch drive through the lane. A Gamecock turnover allowed another Alabama basket, leading to an 8-0 run for the Gamecocks. Walker hit a jumper from the right elbow and a move on the left block from Charenee Stephens was sandwiched between a pair of drives from Ashley Bruner, the last of which gave the Gamecocks their largest lead at 30-14 with 5:24 left in the period.

The Gamecocks played a lot of zone defense in the second half with 6-foot-3 Elem Ibiam manning the middle for much of it. The move stymied the Crimson Tide, but 18 turnovers in the half kept the Gamecocks from pulling much farther away. Alabama struggled to score, despite taking 24 more shots than the Gamecocks, hitting just 27.5 percent for the game, including 22.9 percent in the second half.

Grant and Walker joined Sutton in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Walker netted eight of her points from the free-throw line, including five in the final two minutes of the game. She handed out four assists as well.

Welch left the game in the second half with a right knee injury. Initial report from medical director Dr. Jeffery Guy was a sprain. She will be further evaluated when the team returns to Columbia.

South Carolina is back on the road Thu., Feb. 23, at No. 7 Kentucky before the Gamecocks host Arkansas in the regular-season finale on Sun., Feb. 26. South Carolina will honor its five seniors – Markeshia Grant, Courtney Newton, Charenee Stephens, La’Keisha Sutton and Ebony Wilson – prior to the game.

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